Equity deal will let BBC classics oust US repeats

Daytime television could be saying goodbye to American cop shows and hello to classic BBC series if the corporation succeeds in striking a deal with the Equity union to reduce actors' fees for repeats at off-peak times.

Daytime television could be saying goodbye to American cop shows and hello to classic BBC series if the corporation succeeds in striking a deal with the Equity union to reduce actors' fees for repeats at off-peak times.

If Equity approves the agreement at a council vote on Tuesday, the BBC is likely torespond with a wave of repeats of comedy and drama classics, from Yes Minister to War and Peace.

Equity faces a dilemma over the deal. At first sight, the cheaper rates might appear to be overwhelmingly in the BBC's favour, but many Equity members support them on the basis that it is better to get reduced fees and see the programmes repeated rather than get nothing at all because they are not shown.

The vote comes after a trial year in which drama and comedy stars have received just one-third of their usual repeat fees for shows that have been shown in certain slots on BBC1 on Sunday mornings and weekday afternoons and on BBC2 on late Saturday afternoons.

The BBC's chief negotiator, James Lancaster, said that a year ago "we realised that we just weren't able to show British-made comedy and drama in the daytime schedule because the cost of repeat fees, among other things, made them significantly more expensive than imported programmes".

In most countries television actors do not receive any fees at all when their work is shown. Before the trial, Mr Lancaster said, "no British comedy or drama, none at all, was being repeated in the day". Instead, the schedules were packed with cheaper American shows such as Ironside and Quincy.

A yes-vote could improve the earnings of actors such as Richard Briers, Felicity Kendal and John Nettles, who have starred in the BBC's most famous golden oldies. The year-long experiment has delivered repeat showings of The Good Life, To the Manor Born, Bread, Bergerac, Blake's Seven and Ever Decreasing Circles. An Equity spokesman said: "We estimate that over the year about £2m in fees has been returned to our members as a result of the trial. That is money the actors would not otherwise have got, and it was spread across hundreds of performers."

The BBC is trying to secure a longer-term deal with more flexibility in the hours when the cheaper rates will apply. However, some Equity members are campaigning against the proposal. One council member is reported to be concerned that repeats of programmes such as Yes Minister might be scheduled as late as 5.30pm. Paying cheaper rates at that more popular time slot, it is argued, verges on the exploitative.

Mr Lancaster will not comment on details, but says the BBC has now submitted a revised offer and hopes a deal will be made on Tuesday.

However, a new wave of British repeats in daytime may well displease those who object to the number of repeats of programmes such as Only Fools and Horses and Dad's Army, which are already filling the evening schedules. Recent surveys have shown that the number of repeats is the viewers' main complaint about declining standards on BBC1.

The BBC says viewing habits show that in practicepeople want to see repeats of classic shows. Only Fools and Horses can pull in audiences of eight million, which are the envy of the producers of modern comedies securing only half that number of viewers. As for the new daytime British repeats, the BBC says they are pulling in audiences and " Bergerac in particular has been enormously successful".

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